Nina is an alumnus of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, Class VIII, and is currently the Director of Innovative Collaborations at SLB Radio Productions.  Located at Pittsburgh’s Children’s Museum, Nina is initiating collaborative projects and programs that amplify the voices and ideas of kids and families. Nina can be reached at: 

Our ‘defining moments’ sometimes come at unexpected times.  As leaders, I’m sure all Wexner fellows are tapped to speak at a variety of events, for numerous causes.  Although I typically enjoy public speaking, I was admittedly nervous when preparing to be the “token Jew” sitting on a Children’s Hospital panel.  The subject, “Coping with Grief during the Holidays,” targeted parents and extended families after the loss of a child.  As I struggled to organize my thoughts, strange things started to happen.  “Club members” surfaced from the most unexpected places; this “Club” that nobody wants to join. 

I started The Help that week, and a few pages in, a character described having lost her son: 

“That was the day my whole world went black.  Air looked black, sun looked black.  I layed up in bed and stared at the black walls at my house. …  I was surprised to see the world didn’t stop, just because my boy did.”

That Southern black maid in the 60’s was a Club member who articulated a shared experience better than close friends could.  She helped me connect immediately with my audience.

The next day, to commemorate my son’s birthday, I donated blood.  To explain my melancholy, I mentioned to a blood bank employee that I was donating in memory of my son.  She said, “I lost my son three years ago”.  Another Club member, who had been silently suffering and needed to talk.  We were linked.  She gave me a good idea to share later that week. 

The Midrash implies that if we take the first step in a worthy direction, Hashem will help us along.*  Although most would rationally chalk it up to coincidence, I like to think that I had some help as I focused on providing comfort and making a Kiddush Hashem. 

 *The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel, “My sons, open for Me an opening of tshuva [repentance] like the small size of an eye of a needle, and I will open for you openings large enough for wagons and carriages to pass through [Shir HaShirim Raba 5].